Monday, December 31, 2007

A Last Minute Gift

It was Christmas Eve and I was out shopping with my son. I thought I had raised him better.

I remember many holidays when I worked retail—in high school, college and thereafter. Somehow I was placed in the lingerie department and then, when I graduated college, I managed a department store lingerie area. By then I had grown a little smug and called it Panty Land.

It was the worst place to be on Christmas Eve. Every man in town seemed to wait until the last minute to shop for his wife or girlfriend, and I’d find myself holding up various intimate items for them to consider. It was humiliating. They never knew sizes and I’m sure a lot of women were disappointed Christmas morning. I promised myself never to wait until Christmas Eve to shop.

And then I had boys. I will give him credit. He had half of his shopping done. And he had a good excuse for waiting: he needed some money and used his Christmas cash from his grandparents to pay for some of his gifts.

So we headed out to buy his dad something from Boater’s World, and he wanted to buy his brother a pet, specifically a turtle. We scored a captain’s hat for Dad and then headed to where the pets go. I had to keep him focused on the mission at hand. One minute he was showing me his mad bird-catching skills and the next we were contemplating a snuggly puppy.

Finally we located a red-eared slider well within his budget. For five dollars, I figured we were home free. But there was a catch. The salesperson said you couldn’t leave the store with a turtle unless you purchased the turtle set-up (or rip-off, in this case), to the tune of $150. Thanks, but no.

Without a plan B, we put a make-shift plan B into action, and he guided me over to Rodent World. There he played with various hamsters and gerbils that looked curiously similar to their cousin I had snapped in a trap in the garage a few weeks ago. Just missing a tail...

Now, we’ve had various pets: dogs, lizards, frogs, fish, etc., but I had always drawn the line on a pet that had whiskers and sharp teeth. And then he found the dwarf hamsters. By gosh, they were cute. So we picked out a fuzzy little grey guy, bought the Habitrail and headed home. Little sister dubbed him Small Pie, and he went into safe-keeping under a blanket in big brother’s room.

On Christmas morning, the unveiling occurred and Small Pie was an instant success. He keeps his owner up some nights, running rabid in his habi-wheel, but it looks like he’s here to stay. Dad just had one warning: Keep Mom away from him with a sticky trap.

Friday, December 28, 2007

What did you get for Christmas?

I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday. My husband and I both commented that this Christmas seemed especially nice—low-stressed and pleasant. It doesn’t hurt when the weather is sunny and the temperature hovers around 60 degrees. No, I don’t miss the Midwest in the winter.

Writing my blog around the holidays was difficult since I couldn’t wax on about what I’d found shopping or the gifts I was eager to give, but now I can. One funny incident happened at a music store while shopping for a keyboard stand for my son. Right by the cashwrap was a small pink drumset. My daughter had already said that she’d like to have a pink drumset, a pink guitar, and a pink microphone that wrapped around her head like Hannah Montana. I knew I was doomed. I told the guy at the register to look out. As my daughter finished walking around the store, she approached me and saw the drumset. “Perfect!” she squealed, bending down to inspect it more closely. “Told ya,” I said to the guy behind the counter. He just laughed. Luckily she forgot about it soon afterward.

For me, books are always a favorite—to give and to receive. This year I bought my husband, “101 Things You Should Do Before Your Kids Leave Home,” and for my son, “101 Things You Should Do Before You Graduate.” I’m hoping they’ll find them inspiring.

For my other son I bought “Doodles: A Really Giant Coloring and Doodling Book,” and my daughter loved an Angelina Ballerina book we hadn’t read before. I bought my mom an audio version of “A Christmas Blessing” which she enjoyed listening to while she sewed. My mother-in-law reads voraciously and doesn’t mind their being pre-read, so I bought her a box of books from a little used book store I love. My sister scored a gift card from Half-Price Books from me since she reads so much I could never keep up with what she hasn’t read. And I gave my friend Jennifer a Paula Deen cookbook and “Blue Christmas” by Mary Kay Andrews.

I bought a Jennifer Crusie book for myself and yesterday bought a second. I had never read her books since I don’t read romance, but I found “Bet Me” to be a fun read that was a cross between “The Wedding Date” and “How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days.” It kept me up past 2 a.m. the other night because I had to see how it ended. Lots of fun. Now I’m reading “Faking It” which is about an art forger and a con-man.

So, what did you get for Christmas that had you squealing, “Perfect!” or at least made you smile? And what are you reading that you love? By the way, a new author I discovered when I queried her agent is debuting her first book in Feb. Advanced free copies are being made available through Ballentine while supplies last.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007


I’m a really good shopper although I don’t see it as a recreational sport, as many women are accused of. I’d rather stay home and bake cookies than fight the crowds at the stores. The bad thing about shopping this time of year is I see things for myself. And buy them. Some of them. Yesterday saw a book I wanted at Half Price Books, and since it was used and, well, half-price, I bought it. Merry Christmas to me. “Thanks! It’s just what I wanted,” I said to myself after I got in the car.

I think the years of working retail have irreversibly influenced my shopping. First of all, I rarely buy anything that’s not on sale because I know the markup and that it will eventually get marked down. I found myself straightening the racks yesterday at a children’s clothing store. How do they expect people to buy things if they can’t find them? Force of habit.

The level of customer service really gets to me. I used to train sales people and I also hired secret shoppers to review my mall stores. So when I approach a glassy-eyed salesperson and ask them a question, I expect a well-trained response which doesn’t include, “I don’t know. I just started working here.” I want to say, “Then ask someone to train you better.”

Probably worse than being clueless and admitting it, is the assistant manager who “helped” me buy Christmas lights at Walgreens this year. She was clueless but presented herself as knowledgeable. I asked her how many strands of lights it took to light a 7-foot tree. I was thinking two or three but since they were buy-one-get-one-for-a-penny, I had to buy them in pairs, so I had four boxes in my hands. She looked down at my stash and without a moment’s hesitation said, “Oh, it’ll take at least that many.” I bought the four boxes and by the time I had three strands on the tree it was sufficiently glowing. If I had listened to her, I would have bought more than four. I’d rather her say, “I have no idea. Just buy a lot and bring back what you don’t need.”

A few weeks ago I found an item I needed online and then called my local branch of that store to see if they had it. They did but couldn’t find the box or the cables needed to work it. So I called the second closest store. They didn’t have it either but offered to call around for me and find it. By the end of this shopping adventure I had talked to four different people who all work for the same retailer in different locations. The level of service ranged from extremely helpful to the guy who told me he had never heard of the item. Hmmm.

It just makes me wonder how much good sales-training really does. Or does personality play into what makes a good salesperson. The guy who helped me at Half Price Books yesterday was super nice. He even let me tell him the price of the book my daughter had in her hands and didn’t want to hand over to him to scan. But how hard is it to love working at a book store? I know I would if I could find the time…

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Where can they go from here?

I am in the kitchen, washing dishes, minding my own business when it hits me like a slap to the back of the head. “Mom, have you ever had a yeast infection?” I wheel around to face my son and realize he has just seen a commercial on television for a feminine product.

In a flash I weigh my odds. I can say yes (I had one once, twenty-plus years ago) and see him later in health class with his hand up, offering to share the information on Infection Day. Or I can lie and tell him no. I opt for the second choice. He returns to eating his after-school snack and no more questions follow.

But days later, I am still annoyed. Not at him or his innocent question. I’m annoyed at the advertisements on daytime and primetime television.

I believe Courteney Cox might be partially to blame. In a recent interview, she claimed to be the first person to use the P word on television. Yes, folks, before she was cutting a rug with The Boss on stage, she was touting tampons for when you get your PERIOD. It seems a loose cannon was set off in the advertising world.

My brother-in-law was similarly victimized when watching television with my niece. She turned to him during an advertisement and asked him, “Dad, do YOU suffer from ED?” She heard the statistics of erectile dysfunction, did the math and figured the odds were, he did. For me, I will never be able to look at Bob Dole the same way again.

Now, I’m all for advertising to sell your product to its intended market. But I wish some products would take the same high road that tobacco and hard liquor took many years ago and stick to print. Finding an ad for erectile dysfunction in my husband’s golf magazine would not surprise me at all. I wouldn’t even care if they got a little tacky with lines such as, Is your putter not performing like it used to? At least the odds are my children won’t see it. And even if they did, they might not get the double meaning. Yeah, they probably would.

When my boys first saw an ad for Levitra on television and asked me what it was, I told them it was a vitamin for men that helped them throw a football through a tire swing. But I’m afraid the days of my not-so-forthright answers are running out as the ads get more and more suggestive. And from their giggles, I'm sure they know.

Before you accuse me of not shooting straight when it comes to my kids’ questions, let me assure you we’ve had plenty of talks about puberty and its trappings. When our daughter was born, we used all the proper terms in talking about her birth. Even before that, my older son asked me what a tampon was after seeing a vending machine in a family restroom at the mall. (Only he didn’t pronounce it right, making it sound as though it rhymed with harpoon.) I told him I’d tell him what it was when we got to the car and I did. Only my younger son objected to being informed and held his hands over his ears chanting, “I don’t want to know, I don’t want to know!”

So the next time I see an advertisement for a product to help stimulate a male with ED, watch out. I will probably be the one in the room with my hands over my ears shouting, “I don’t want to know, I don’t want to know!”

Monday, December 10, 2007

What's your lovey?

I’m on a readers’ panel advisory board for a parenting magazine. Before you start to get impressed, let me nip that in the bud. All it involved was shooting them an email stating I’d participate in monthly email requests for reader participation.

Back in the summer they were fishing for unique ways to make the getting ready for school routine easier. Hmmm. Just how do you coax a teenager out from under the covers? Humanely. I’ve tried turning the light on. Pulling his bedding off him. Kissing his face until he shrieks. Finally the threat of I am NOT driving you to school if you are late, eventually has him stumbling from his bed. Not exactly a technique to share.

Then before the holidays, I received a few emails from the magazine looking for holiday memories and traditions to share with other readers. Again, my mind drew a blank and, with a click of the mouse, the emails went into the trash file before I could let myself stew over the fact that I had nothing worth writing about.

The latest request had me tapping my chin. They wanted to know about a special lovey or favorite toy your child had become attached to. Both of the boys had pacifiers they couldn’t live without for the first two years of their lives. Then they carried around stuffed animals and little pillows I made for them. Again, nothing very remarkable.

But then there’s my daughter and her special go-to for comfort. My mole. Weird, I know, and believe me, I didn’t write in to the magazine about this either. (Not sure what’s possessing me to share it here…) I have a mole on my collarbone that she discovered back when she was breastfeeding. I don’t even remember when she first started touching it, but somehow it became a source of comfort for her.

Now, whenever she is upset or can’t get to sleep or just needs to be comforted, her hand will find its way inside my shirt until her fingers touch my mole. We tease her about it, call it the magic mole or momma’s mole and the boys taunt her with, “Moley, moley, mole!” until she squeals. I told her this morning I was going to have Santa bring her her own mole for Christmas and have it put right on her collarbone. Then she could touch it whenever she wanted. She just grinned and said, “No, Momma. I like yours.”

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

The Best Sugar Cookies

Around this time last year, I got invited to attend a book club. One of the women at the club shared a story about bringing sugar cookies to her child’s school under the guise as being store-bought since homemade goodies weren’t allowed. She purchased a plastic container of grocery store rolls, dumped out the rolls and put the cookies in their place. They looked store-bought, but she knew that they were hers and insisted that her recipe was the world’s-best.

I felt as though I had met my alter-ego, and I knew I could never be friends with this woman since we were too much alike. I also knew she was wrong; I have the best sugar cookie recipe. It was given to me by an old neighbor in Alabama—where, by the way, my most favorite recipes have come from. I love southern cooking and it was in Alabama that I learned some cooking and entertaining methods I will always use.

I will share the recipe with you now. You can either sprinkle sugar or candies on top before baking or ice them after they’re cooled. Either way, they are yummy! This is double the original recipe so feel free to halve it. My thinking is, if you’re going to make a mess—make a big one!

Soft Sugar Cookies

¾ cup unsalted butter (not margarine), softened
¾ cup butter-flavored Crisco
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
2 t. real vanilla
2 t. baking powder
2 t. salt
5 cups flour

Mix together the first five ingredients, then add the last three. Chill dough overnight or at least until firm. Separate into three or four sections for ease of rolling out and roll on a floured surface. Cut with cookie cutters and place on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at 4oo degrees for 5-7 minutes or until edges just begin to brown. Remove immediately to a wire rack to cool.

These are yummy and, although I have a tendency to convince others that I’m right (isn’t admitting it the first step to recognizing you have a problem?), I wasn’t compelled to make up a batch and take them to her house so she could compare them to hers. I’m sure if I did, she would have insisted hers were better. And in her mind, she’d be right.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

House of Ill-Girl

Hopefully this is the last feel-sorry-for-me-because-my-kid-is-sick post for a while. Yesterday, we were back to the pediatrician for my daughter’s persistent cough. If she were a teen, I’d accuse her of smoking. She certainly has that hacker cough. When her doctor asked why we were back so soon, I told her we were trying to use up flex plan money before it expired. That or we heard they had a frequent visitor program and we’re racking up points. Before the doctor could accuse me of Munchausen by Proxy, my daughter started in with a coughing fit that would rival the Marlboro Man’s.

Diagnosis: Walking pneumonia—not to be confused with rockin’ pneumonia or the boogie-woogie flu—which, either one, would be a lot more fun. Three prescriptions later, we were on our way home.

I read through the side effects of two of the meds and noticed one warned she would be more susceptible to other illnesses. No matter. I hadn’t intended on taking her anywhere for days. We are going to hole up at home and get this cleared up.

After a dose of antibiotic, steroid, and a breathing treatment, I thought she would be ready for a nap. I know I was since she’s been waking us both up at night with her coughing. As soon as I took the mask from her face, she popped off my lap and started twirling around the den. Apparently no one in the test market exhibited the uncontrollable need to dance as a side-effect.

I guess I need to call her doctor and see if she’ll prescribe me the same drugs—or as the woman said in When Harry Met Sally’s famous cafĂ© scene, “I’ll have what she’s having.” Because right now, I am not feeling like a very twirly-girl.

Yes, I love it! No, really, I do!

I’ve had several appear in my inbox before. You know, the different versions of “Getting to Know You” Q&As that make the rounds. Someone comes up with 20+ questions and you fill in the answers and pass it back and along to your friends.

The other day I got a new one—a Christmas version that asked your favorite song, favorite gift, etc.

There was also a blank for the worst gift you ever received. Of the few I saw, runner-up goes to my cousin, Kendra, for receiving some plastic green army men from her great aunt. I’ve known her all my life, and not once did I ever mistake her for a five-year-old boy. What was she thinking?

Hands-down winner is my sister, Amy, for getting the anniversary collector’s edition video and book set of The Exorcist. From her husband. Yes, nothing says, I love you and Merry Christmas like a horror movie.

So, what is your worst gift ever? Can you top Amy’s?

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Can you retire from this?

I just read online that Pamela Anderson is retiring. I don’t know about you, but ShOckeD is not a word to describe how I felt reading this news. In fact I was more stunned when I saw Peter Frampton on a Geico commercial. Where’s the hair, Peter? And what you have left is white!

It’s just a fact of life that we all are getting older. Some of us still have hair (and for some it’s still styled like our high school senior pictures!), but all of us have to deal with changing bodies. The other day I patted my daughter on her seat and told her she had a cute boochy. “Yours is jiggly,” she said. “And so are your boobs.” Can you see this child having NO friends in high school if she continues to be compelled to tell it like it is?

I half-fell out of bed in the middle of the night trying to spring myself free from the wedge of bed created between my husband and daughter. He had a leg over mine and her arm was over my chest and in my shirt. It’s nice to be loved, but please. I really like to sleep without being pinned to the mattress.

I managed to land on the floor without breaking any bones or wrenching any major muscles, but it wasn’t easy. But I’m sure later I will feel the effects of catapulting myself without first warming up.

The other day I tried to entertain the boys with the ol’ fake walking down the steps routine, or the fake escalator ride. (As in the Austin Powers movie and more recently, a BudLight commercial.) They were at the kitchen table and I was on the other side of the island. I did the fake walk down the stairs and tried to disguise my knees popping with a cough or two. And then I did the escalator ride. And then…I couldn’t walk because of the burning in my thighs. Apparently I do have muscles and they aren’t accustomed to squats.

Time to try and reverse—or at least stall—the aging process and work out. Or I might just be like my namesake, Ms. Anderson, and retire from trying to keep up with my kids.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Is your laundry basket half-full or half-empty?

I recently read about a woman who was lamenting the fact that her son, now a young adult, never called home or had much contact with her at all. She wondered why she had bothered with all that was required of his childhood—the diapers, the PTA meetings—when the rewards would be so few once he had flown her nest. How sad to think, in retrospect, she could find so little that was enjoyable about his upbringing.

And then I thought about a parallel mother, whom I’ve known for many years. Her son died suddenly at the age of 22. She holds close to her heart wonderful memories of a precious child whose potential was never fully known. He had just finished college and was on his way to becoming a youth pastor when he died. Thankfully his mother takes solace in the time she spent nurturing and guiding her son. If the two women were to meet, I can’t help but wonder if the first one might have a change of heart.

How we view our roles as parents is up to us. We can perceive the mountains of laundry and dirty dishes as drudgery. Or we can plow into the day-to-day with the notion that this is part of it. Sure there are other things I’d rather do than housework, but it’s my role in this family. And as my children get older, it is with delight and obligation to their maturation process that I get to teach them how to do chores—first by my side and later on their own. How I approach this role will directly affect how they view their responsibilities. Will they tackle their tasks with dread? Probably some of the time, because I know I do. But I have no doubt their attitudes will be a direct reflection of mine.

When the boys were toddlers, I learned pretty quickly that saying, “Let’s go play in the tub!” was greeted with much more enthusiasm than, “You have to take a bath.” The end result was the same; the difference was in the approach.

I keep a favorite quote on my desk that reads: Every step of the journey is the journey. If we become so focused on what our kids might one day become, we might miss out on the exciting steps—and missteps—they make along the way.

Chores, meetings, errands, carpooling, dental and doctor appointments. They are all part of raising a family. If I choose to delight in the process, find humor in the ordinary, rejoice in the routine, how much richer my life and the lives of my children will be!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Greeting Christmas

The challenge has been issued: It’s time to get going on my Christmas cards. A good friend—who I’ll refrain from identifying but her name starts with J and ends with ennifer—started asking (nagging) me about two weeks ago. “Have you thought about what you’re going to do for your cards this year?” she asked, trying to keep me from procrastinating but secretly fishing for ideas.

I have brought this on myself. Making our cards started years ago, and I’m sure it was partly a way to save money. But since then, the pressure to top last year’s greeting keeps escalating. One of my early attempts included a Christmas letter written from the perspective of our dog (insert eye-roll here) and then I think the next year the letter came from the viewpoint of our newborn son (double eye-roll now).

Now, I might be in the minority, but I love getting cards with pictures of my friends and/or their kids, and if you enclose a corny letter, then I’m really excited. Just don’t drone endlessly about Uncle Roy’s hernia operation. That I don’t care about. I love hearing how your kids made the basketball team or about your trip to Mickeyland.

Somehow I have fallen into the routine of sending a photo of our kids one year and a photo of our entire family (and sometimes the dog) the following year. Thankfully—since I’m still not wild about my haircut—this year is the kids-only picture.

Taking a picture is a no-brainer, but I still have to write my letter. Last year I rewrote the lyrics to “My Favorite Things” and the year before was an ABC thing. This year, who knows? I might just break down and email a photo to Shutterfly and call it a day. At least that’s what Jennifer admitted she just did!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Two reasons to cheer

It’s almost clichĂ© to say, but I hate going to the dentist. A week ago, the day before our vacation, the dentist I had finally made an appointment with called to say they had a cancellation and would I like to come in. “No!” I wanted to say. I will never like coming in. But I covered the mouthpiece with my hand, stuck my head into the bathroom and hollered to my husband, “Do we have time for me to run to the dentist?” He said, “Sure.” I retorted, “I might be awhile,” hoping he would give me an out. “That’s fine,” he replied. “Take your time.” Darn. Why does he always have to be so agreeable?

So I accepted their offer and spent the next hour or so having the most uncomfortable x-rays EVER and then a cleaning which involved various instruments of torture. My only consolation was returning to my car and checking my cell phone for messages. I assumed the only one would be from my son, asking when I was coming home as he always does when I’m gone longer than he thinks is necessary.

Instead I had a message from the editor of Austin Family magazine telling me they wanted to run an article that I had submitted to them. I had revamped my haircut disaster story from my blog, and they are now running it in the January issue. Yea!

Then this Monday, I returned from the pediatrician to see my home phone message light blinking. An agent I had queried and sent the first chapter wanted me to send them the full. Another yea! only a bit louder this time.

So yesterday I emailed the file for A Forgiving Season to Office Max and went to pick up the printout. Two guys were working the copy center, and the one helping me couldn’t find the charge slip. So he asked guy number two for some help. Guy number two was at the computer, working with two customers on their print job, and he stopped to pull up my file to check the page count.

One of the women seated across from him, turned to me after reading the screen and asked, “Did you write that?”
“Yes, I did,” I answered.
“The whole thing?”
“Yes,” I said.
“Are you publishing it?”
“No, ma’am,” I said. “I’m sending it to an agent in New York and hopefully she’ll find someone to publish it.”
A Forgiving Season,” she said, thoughtfully as she elbowed her friend. “Y’all, we’re gonna remember this day. You’re gonna be on Oprah next year, right?”
“That would be nice,” I said.
“Well, that’s how it starts,” she said.
“Yes, ma’am. For some it does. You’re right about that.”

Neat to have someone cheering for me who doesn’t even know me!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Nobody loves you like Shamu

Our family just bucked tradition in true cowboy style and celebrated a non-conformist Thanksgiving at Sea World. Soccer son had a weekend tournament in San Antonio, and we headed out of town a few days early to make the most of the holiday.

First Stop: Meeting up with the Halbert Family. We hadn’t seen them in six years, when we all lived in Illinois. Their military tour had taken them from O’Fallon to Utah to Boston and now they’ve landed just north of Austin and are enjoying retirement. Amazing how quickly we were able to catch up. I’m grateful for friendships that stand the test of time and distance.

Second Stop: San Marcos to visit my husband’s alma mater. The campus was deserted because of the holiday, but he was able to share some memories with the children including lunch at one of his favorite haunts that served a strange—but delicious—combination of juicy burgers and sinful cinnamon rolls.

Last Stop: San Antonio for a long weekend. On Thanksgiving morning we awoke to a 40 degree temperature drop, bundled up in layers and headed to see Shamu. It was cold and gloomy but not a bit crowded. We seemed to share the park with many non-Americans who didn’t mind missing out on a holiday tradition they probably don’t celebrate.

After seven hours of rides and shows, feeding marine mammals and downing cups of hot chocolate, we called it a day and feasted on hot pizza delivered to our hotel room. (If we closed our eyes, we could almost taste turkey, dressing and pumpkin pie.)

The final games of the soccer tournament were rained out, so we headed home a little early, thankful for the time we were able to spend with friends and family.

My daughter and I returned home with souvenir chest colds, so I took her to the pediatrician yesterday. After she coached the nurse on how to take her temperature (“If you put it in too far, you’ll make me gag just a little.”), and scolded the doctor for buttoning her hair in her dress (“Next time, if you let me know you’re about to button my dress, I can raise my hair out of the way and then you won’t pull it.”), the diagnosis: A harmless cough but a severe case of bossiness. I’d already made half of that analysis.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Here Mousey, Mousey, Mousey

Lately we’ve been enjoying the late-night antics of a mouse that runs along our backyard fence. My husband first spotted it as it ate from the birdfeeder that’s mounted on our fence. Then our dog noticed it and decided that the evil mouse should be driven from the yard. But since the fence runs along a brick wall, his chase ends when the fence gets too high.

The other night we had some friends over and they too enjoyed the fun game of dog vs. mouse-on-a-fence. So cute. So desperate are we for entertainment, apparently.

And then my son discovered a mouse in the garage. It had taken refuge under the freezer. Just for the record, this is the level of my mouse tolerance: Mouse on fence—kinda cute. Mouse in garage—kinda creepy. It was time to bring out the big guns. Or at least a few traps.

So I put “mouse traps” on my shopping list and headed to the store. After ten minutes of trying to decide if I should poison it, snap its neck, stick it to a glue board, or humanely catch and release it (Yeah, right! Like he wouldn’t come back?), I opted for the traditional spring traps and the jumbo glue boards. (I hid them on the bottom of my cart in case Ms. Fancy Pants saw me and thought I was skanky for having a rodent problem.)

I baited the glue boards with some leftover Halloween candy while my son played launch-the-plastic-lizard with the spring traps. I snatched the traps from him before he could snap a finger and baited them with peanut butter.

Carefully, I laid the glue boards down and then went back in for the snap traps. Of course one went off as I set it down and I nearly wet my pants. If you want to see me die an immediate, painless death, throw a mouse on me. I dare you. I’m sure it would work.

So, I reset the spring trap and went back in the house where it was safe. Fast forward to the next morning. Spring traps are still set, but one glue board is missing. Not a good sign. After some deep breathing in the safe house, I go back out to search for the board that has apparently become a wheel-less skateboard for a giant rat.

I find the glue board wedged under the ball-keeper-cage and look under it to find NO MOUSE. He was so super-strong, he managed to free himself from the glue trap, leaving some hair and footprints behind and now is hiding somewhere, waiting to pounce on me, I’m sure. So now, I’m on the lookout for a patchy-haired rat who doesn’t like peanut butter. Hopefully he’s over at my neighbor’s house. I think they thought he was pretty cute.

Friday, November 16, 2007

I just can't compete

Dear Over-dressed Shopper:

I’m not sure what your motivation is, but I wish you would just stop it. You know who you are. You have on your designer jeans—in an attempt to appear casual—but then you’re wearing high heels and enough jewelry to make Mr. T look understated. Your rhinestone-studded T-shirt isn’t fooling me either. I’ve seen them in the trendy boutiques and know it costs ten times what I paid for my plain, faded T (which conveniently came from a store where you can also buy the detergent to wash it).

Your hair is freshly washed and styled, and it’s a safe bet you never let your child use your sleeve as an impromptu tissue. Not only do you carry a fashionable handbag, you have the wallet to match and a coordinating key fob. I can tell by the weight of my homemade sling bag if I’ve remembered my wallet (also purchased at the Red Bull’s-eye), and if it’s really heavy, then chances are I’ve managed to bring my cell phone. An ultra-heavy bag means I’m probably toting the remains of someone’s snack or an assortment of Happy Meal toys.

Just so you know, Ms. Fancy Pants, when the What-Not-To-Wear people or Oprah’s make-over team decide to swoop down upon an unsuspecting shopper and offer the re-do to-die-for, it’s going to be me they pounce on, not you, sister. I am the poster woman for a “before” shot that makes an audience shake their heads in wonder. Do you really want the odds swinging so far in my favor? I would think not.

So, leave your make-up at home in the drawer where it belongs. Save the manicures for the hand models and the highlights for the high-schoolers. Join me in the Land of Dowdy. It’s much more comfortable here.


Plain Jane

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Talk funny to me

I was writing a shopping list across the breakfast table from my daughter. Aloud I listed off, “Tea, butter, toilet paper…”
“I don’t like hearing that word unless I’m in the bathroom,” she said, looking up from her cereal bowl.
“Toilet paper?” I asked. “Why not?”
“It just sounds funny in my ears,” she reasoned.
I laughed.
“It’s not funny,” she said.
Respectfully, I tried to sober up. She’s right. It’s not funny when something just doesn’t sound right in your ears.

For example, Paris Hilton deciding to be charitable and scheduling a trip to Rwanda. Sounded funny to me and surprise, surprise: it didn’t happen. Britney Spears taking parenting classes. Can’t imagine the frustration level of the instructor. I’m thinking she should start with basic hygiene. Didn’t her momma tell her to wear panties in public? Speaking of her mother, something else that sounded funny in my ears. I heard Lynn Spears signed a book deal with a Christian publisher to write a parenting book. And then I listened to the collective banging of heads by wanna-be-published writers who are eminently more qualified.

And how about the Santas in Syndey, Australia, who have been encouraged to say, “Ha, ha, ha” instead of “Ho, ho, ho” because, if overheard by the child’s mother, she might get offended? Sounds more than funny to my ears. Come on, people! Lighten up!

Wonder if Santa would be offended if I had my daughter ask for a years’ supply of toilet paper for Christmas? Now that might make him say, “Ha, ha, ha!”

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Horse Therapy

Recipe for having the creative juices sucked right out of you:

Host a marathon birthday party for teenager and ten of his closest buds
Have four-year-old daughter throw up all over the kitchen floor and then run fever for four days
Commit to three articles with deadlines all on the same week that child is too ill to attend preschool
Have to cancel critique group because husband went out of town and child is still sick
Have only connection to the outside world involve trips to nearest grocery for food and cleaning products
Forget to bathe one day and decide you really don’t care

Put it all together and you have no desire to be witty, clever, or engaging in your conversations much less your writings.

As much as I love writing my blog in the hopes that someone besides my mother is reading it and feeling a similar connection, I hesitate to write when I really have nothing to say. My thoughts the last few days weren’t really worth sharing.

But…child is better, articles are submitted and have been accepted, I’ve bathed and dressed and even flat-ironed my hair. Now we’ve just completed a mission of kindness and pursuit of fresh air. I bought a jumbo bag of carrots on my last run to the store and we headed out to feed our neighborhood horses. I think they enjoyed our company as much as we did theirs.

Friday, November 9, 2007

We know what you're buying

Apparently I have some new best friends I didn’t even know about. I learned their identities when I got a letter from them in the mail last week. This is—in a nutshell—how it read:

Dear Pamela:

We notice you spend a lot of money in our store. As a matter of fact, you spend more than one in five people who visit us. To show our appreciation, we are enclosing some coupons we tailored just for you. We look forward to seeing you again real soon.

The Folks at Kroger

Apparently, because I hand over a little plastic thingy that hangs from my keychain for the Kroger boys to scan as they check my purchases, the Kroger execs are keeping track of what I buy. This just seems a little too Big Brother for me.

I can envision their marketing people, sitting back, reading through my list of purchases, scratching their heads. “Look here,” says #1. “She bought fudge Poptarts, chocolate chip Eggos, fudge Toaster Strudels, and Cocoa Krispies. This woman is a chocolate nut, I think. Should we send her a coupon for Cocoa Puffs or All-Bran cereal, which is what she should be buying?”

“It’s a toss-up really,” answers #2. “If you send her the All-Bran coupon, she’ll probably never use it. But look here, she bought two packs of Slim Fast. Maybe it was for someone else.”

“Let me see that,” says #1. “No, look. It was Chocolate Fudge Royale. It’s probably hers.”

And so it goes until they’ve amassed eight or ten coupons “tailored” for my shopping needs. I threw the whole packet in the trash. It just sorta creeped me out to think that people I’ve never met know what I purchase each week. But if I don’t hand over my key tag, I’ll end up paying 15% more for my groceries than I should.

Each time my purchase is totaled and before the cashier hands me my receipt, he’ll scratch his thumbnail in a circular pattern around my total savings, printed at the bottom leaving a dark ring. “You saved $26.53 today, Mrs. Hammonds,” he proudly exclaims, handing over the shiny paper.

Next time I think I’ll say, “Oh yeah? Well, keep it to yourself, will ya?”

Thursday, November 8, 2007

I love my country

I’m not a huge country music fan. More accurately, I’m not even a medium-sized fan unless you count my short-lived fascination with Kenny Chesney or my love of Johnny Cash after Walk the Line. But I tuned into the CMA awards last night and watched it intermittently between my usual evening chores.

You gotta love an award show where women with big hair and even bigger dresses share the stage with guys who are dressed as though they just left a tractor pull. And if I were seated behind someone such as Kenny Chesney or Brad Paisley, I’d be tempted to tap them on the shoulder and ask them to remove their hats. I’d be a bit miffed if I couldn’t see the stage!

But despite the gaudy dresses and the oversized belt buckles, there’s something that I find very endearing about the country music industry. They just seem like one big, happy, functional family. I watched as award “losers” quickly hopped to their feet to cheer on the winners, slapping them on the back or grabbing them in a bear hug as they made their way to the stage. And it looked genuine! When Kellie Pickler broke down singing her song on stage, the camera panned the audience and many cried right along with her. They knew her story and many had their own rags-to-riches tale too. And not to be outdone in the emotion department, Brad Paisley choked up during his acceptance speech for male vocalist of the year.

When dressed-like-a-princess Taylor Swift won the Horizon Award for best new artist, the adorable 17-year-old gushed that the honor was “the highlight of her senior year.” (And to think mine was winning the tug-o-war over a mud pit at our homecoming festivities.)

I am an American Idol junkie, so my real motivation for tuning in was to see Carrie Underwood. So I was pleased to see her win two awards including back-to-back female entertainer of the year awards. In her honor, I will go to iTunes today and finally buy her new song I love so much: So Small. If you haven’t heard it, watch it on Yahoo video. It just might make you a country music fan.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Your feet smell like chicken

When cooler weather finally arrives, I get the urge to pull out favorite recipes—hearty soups and southern, comfort food.

Apparently my friend Tracy gets the same impulse. I stopped by her house the other day, scooped her baby Lily up and then sniffed. “Oh, I think she has a poopy diaper,” I said, holding her out for Tracy to peek in and check. Nope. She didn’t. Apparently it was Tracy’s chili simmering on the stove that I caught a whiff of. “That’s one way to be sure you don’t get invited to stay for dinner,” she said. Oops. I’m not a chili fan, can you tell?

But I have been hungry for baked potato soup—a great recipe from The Blue Owl restaurant in Kimmswick, Missouri. I also tried a new recipe for corn and salmon chowder the other day that I’d clipped from Cottage Living magazine. I thought it was delicious, but the kids thought it was weird to have corn in their soup.

Then on Saturday I boiled a chicken to make a family favorite: homemade chicken and dumplings from Jan Karon’s Mitford cookbook. (Not at all fattening!) The recipe suggests boiling the chicken a day before, letting the broth cool overnight and then skimming the fat before cooking with it.

Just before going to bed, I placed the chicken in a bowl and poured the broth into a Tupperware container to put out in the garage refrigerator. I had my son open the door for me and as I lifted it up onto the shelf, I quickly learned that Tupperware doesn’t hold its shape so well when hot. The container buckled, the lid popped off and I spilled about two quarts of chicken juice down the front of the open refrigerator and onto my feet.

I made my son go get his dad and together we hosed off the refrigerator parts on the driveway, poured bleach on the floor and hosed that away too. Just what we love doing at 10 o’clock at night! I apologized to him for pulling him away from the television. He said it was fine; the fridge needed cleaning anyway. His reward came on Sunday evening when we had yummy chicken and dumplings for dinner. And then again when he had seconds.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Dress for success

The tears were flowing freely at our house Friday evening. I decided to take, whoever showed an interest in tagging along, to our high school football game. The weather was perfect, it was our last home game and well, I just needed to get out of the house. Turns out our four-year-old daughter and her 12-year-old brother wanted to go. Dad and teenage boy (who actually goes to the high school) decided to stay home and bond over some music and snacks.

The trauma began over a wardrobe struggle. My daughter wanted to wear the Belle dress she had shopped in all day, along with the purple fairy wings we scored at the after-Halloween sale at Target. I picked out a cheerleader dress (handed down from a friend) with a turtleneck and tights. Very fitting for a football game, I thought, even if I do have an aversion to teenage girls who jump around in short dresses in front of God and everyone. I tried to reason with her. Not only was her Belle dress short sleeved, I could envision being jabbed by the fairy wings every time she squirmed on my lap.

I took her aside and calmly said, “It’s just not going to work. It’s too cool outside for your Belle dress and too crowded in the stadium to sit next to you with wings on.”

She took a deep breath, wiped a tear away, and said, “But I just want to look professional.”

I hear ya, sistah. Me too.

I struggle with trying to appear professional when I sit down at my computer to complete a story assignment and have to clear away Hotwheels, Polly Pockets, or decks of cards from the desk to reach the keyboard. Under my feet I kick away a soccer ball or someone’s discarded shoes. Then the phone rings and I reach in the drawer for a pen only to grab a broken crayon instead. Urrrghh! It’s really enough to make me cry. Or maybe I should just find a Belle dress and fairy wings in my size and then see if anyone will take me seriously.

Monday, November 5, 2007

The first few pages

I’ve learned, since writing my first manuscript and sending it to agents, that most request a query letter (a letter that tells them who you are and what you’ve written and why others might want to read it) and typically he or she will ask for your first chapter, the first five or ten pages or possibly just a synopsis (a three-page summary of your book, beginning to end).

At first I was offended. If I took the time to write this tome, wouldn’t they be doing me a disservice to just read the first five or ten pages and not at least a few chapters? I entered my manuscript in a competition last spring that asked for the first ten pages, which happened to be my first chapter. It was amazing how much the judge was able to comment on—characters, conflict, hook, plotting, setting—having read just a couple thousand words out of the 70,000+ I had written.

But now I admit that I can read the first few pages of a book to get a sense of how that author writes, whether or not he or she is speaking to me and if I’m eager to read more. That’s all it takes. I know I’ve asked people about a book I’ve read only to hear them say, “Oh, I started it, but I just couldn’t get into it.” And I’ve done the same, picked up a book because of the back cover pitch or on a recommendation of a friend, and just couldn’t get past the first few pages. Rarely do I give that book a second try. It just didn’t grab me.

Rarer still does a book start out with a bang and then die a slow death midway through. But it does happen. Those are the stories that make me wonder if I’m losing my attention span or did the author run short on imagination.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Picky, picky, picky

I read on a literary agent’s blog the other day a question she posed which, paraphrased, read something like this: If you had to choose, which would you rather read? A well-written book with a weak plot or a so-so written book that’s a great story? I can’t say that I would enjoy either.

First of all, I’ve discovered that the more I read and write, the choosier I am with my reading. Authors whose books I used to enjoy, I’ve reread to get a sense of plot or character development or just a feel for why I liked the particular story, only to find that I didn’t enjoy the story as much the second time around. (And, no, Sonya, I am not talking about A Prayer for Owen Meany—I still love that book!)

I recently read a name-brand author’s new book whose work I’ve enjoyed immensely only to trudge through his latest story. To me it read like a first draft. Not only did I struggle with wanting to fix his sentence structure, but I even found holes in the plot. Points of conflict he introduced only to drop them like a bad habit (or a bad metaphor) mid-way through the book.

My husband listened to me rant for awhile and muttered something about sour grapes and then suggested I reread some of this author’s earlier books. “I’ll bet you’ll find the same stuff in what he wrote before; you just notice it now,” he said. So I took him up on his challenge and reread the first page of three of his books and noticed a vast difference: his earlier books were better. I can only assume a different editor was at the helm this time, the book was rushed to press, or because he sells so many books, the publisher doesn’t suggest many changes to what he submits.

Regardless, what started as a visit with a favorite author ended with disappointment that I spent so much time reading a book that was not enjoyable. So, for me a book has to be well-written and have a great plot. Otherwise, I feel cheated that I’ve given my time to a story that’s left me disappointed. I don’t think I’m asking too much.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Happy Halloween

This morning started with the usual weekday routine. Drag lazy carcass out of bed (self, not hubby’s—he’s too heavy to drag), say good morning to early-riser child who is catching up on everything important in the world via ESPN, then wake sleepy teen boy who slept all night on his sister’s bedroom floor after falling asleep while listening to a Junie B. Jones book-on-CD. I’ll admit; it is tough to pull yourself away from the antics of the most obnoxious first-grader and her friends. Wowie, wow, wow!

He finally showers and comes downstairs with a plain white T-shirt on and jeans. Apparently at his high school it’s acceptable to wear a costume today, and since I refused to run to Target last night at 9 o’clock in search of an afro so he could go as a white Jimi Hendrix, he opted to be Three-Hole-Punch Jim from The Office. All I had to do was wonder-under some black felt circles down the front of his shirt and he was set. Sure was easier than the princess costume I made for his sister. Or the gansta ghost his brother made.

Going to cut this short. It’s in the mid-70s outside, and I’m headed for the back patio to work on my novel. It’s just too pretty to be sitting behind the computer today. Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

I am not (completely) responsible

They were warned. When my daughter started preschool this year, I told her teacher and her assistant that things might come out of my child’s mouth for which I could not be blamed. She has two brothers, ages 12 and 15, and along with overhearing their conversations, they also think it’s funny to teach her phrases inappropriate for a four-year-old.

Yesterday when I picked her up from school, Mia’s teacher told her friend’s mother that Morgen had a hard time keeping her pants up so they fashioned a belt out of a piece of yarn for her. Then Ashley, the teacher’s assistant, said through giggles that while Morgen’s too-big britches slipped down, Mia shouted out, “Hey, Morgen. Crack kills!” Gee, wonder who taught her that?

Rewind to Saturday’s soccer game when she insisted on wearing her Belle dress and latched onto her brother’s bling (from his gangsta ghost) as an accessory. He gave her a line to recite if anyone asked her what she had around her neck. She was only too happy to comply. So when one mom asked her about her gaudy necklace, she said, “That’s ma chain, foo’!”

Also note from the picture how she is wearing no shoes. Half-way to the game (which is 45-minutes away with no traffic), we noticed she was put in her carseat without shoes. We spent the pre-game warm-up time driving around looking for a Payless so we could buy her some shoes and never found one. Forgetting to put shoes on your child is a sure sign we are too old to be having children.

Monday, October 29, 2007

It's good to be king

Saturday proved to be a good day for the middle child. (Don’t believe everything you read about birth order. He’s a well-adjusted preteen.) He scored a goal in his last soccer game for the season. (Might have had something to do with the fact I brought along a camera.) Then we zipped to his band competition at a neighboring middle school in time for him to play his percussion piece but not advance to the next round. He practiced and knew it, but got a little nervous and stumbled a bit. While this might not sound like good news, he didn’t mind since his friend Madalynn didn’t advance either, and he admits she works harder than he does at percussion.

Then off we drove to get some groceries and arrived home in time to put together his costume for a masquerade dance at school Saturday night. His costume: a gangsta ghost. His brother embellished the sheet with some bullet holes and he reused the Elvis sunglasses from a few Halloweens ago. He topped it all off with some bling and a crooked cap. Made me a little nostalgic for the year he dressed up as Hercules and roamed around the neighborhood with his “muskels” flexed.

The good day got even better when he arrived home from the dance with a gaudy gold crown on top of his baseball cap. He had been crowned king and Madalynn won queen. Not a bad day for the kid.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Momma's got a brand new 'do

Yesterday I sought refuge from my hair disaster in a new salon. My daughter’s preschool teacher told me about her cousin who cuts hair, and since her teacher’s hair looked evenly cut and presentable, I took her cousin’s name and called her salon. Lucky me, she had an opening!

When I walked in and asked for Amanda, I’ll admit I did hesitate a bit when the girl (trust me, I have underwear older than she is) with black hair and blue highlights, a lip ring and tattoos, said, “I’m Amanda.” With as much authority as I could muster without an undertone of bitchiness, I said to her before sitting down, “Look. I am forty-something and I can’t pull off anything too crazy. I’d like to look updated but not trendy. Got it?” She got it.

Amanda was a good listener and an even better stylist. Forty minutes later I was washed, cut, styled and on my way. Now I look a little like Victoria Beckham’s older, darker-haired, less-fit and much poorer second cousin, once removed.

And for those of you who called or emailed your hair horror stories or asked for a picture of my bad hair: Thank you for sharing and NO, I am not posting a photo of me with Cher-hair. It’s taken me two days to stop singing “If I could turn back time…”

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Are you my mother?

I was way overdue for a haircut. Last week, in an attempt to transform the mop into some semblance of style, I flipped the ends up with my flatiron. “Cool hair,” my 12-year-old son said as I entered the room. “Yeah,” seconded his brother, “you look like Jimmy Neutron’s mom.” Not exactly the look I was going for, but he meant it as a compliment, I think, so I brushed off the notion that I was walking around with cartoon hair.

So I went in yesterday and had it cut. I’d used this stylist before, but had another woman cut my hair the last time. It seems whenever I move, it takes a few attempts to find someone who really cuts my hair to my satisfaction.

I made the mistake of not having a clear idea of how I wanted it cut. Instead I rattled off general directions such as: keep the length, trim the dead stuff, and bangs? Sure, why not? As the hair began to fall, I started to get a bad vibe, but it’s hard to judge a cut when it’s still wet.

The bad vibes intensified as she started drying it. The layering got poofy and I caught a glimpse of Loretta Lynn—the early years—staring back at me from the mirror. Before she could finish, I blurted out, “Oh, I don’t like it!” So she stopped and offered to flatiron it, and I went from country music-singer coif to Carol Brady flip. “Better?” she asked. Well… I muttered something, paid for the disaster and left. I haven’t cried over my hair since a ‘do my mom gave me which involved a home perm and Dippity-Do, but I came close in the parking lot.

I had planned to run some errands post-cut, but just couldn’t. Instead I ran home, got my flatiron out and tamed the flip. The end result looked like Pat Benatar with bed-head.

I text-messaged my husband, my sister, and my friend Jennifer with: I HATE MY HAIRCUT! My husband called and listened to me whine, but there wasn’t much he could do. Then I called my writing partner, Joan, who empathized and said, “I can’t believe you told her you didn’t like it.” I had to—I’m not a good enough actress to fake enthusiasm through potential tears. Then Jennifer called and convinced me to take a picture of myself with my cell phone and send it to her. I knew it was bad when she called back and said, “Just wait and see what the boys say when they get home from school. And smile, so they don’t think something’s wrong.”

The first boy arrived home and said, “What happened?” I responded, smiling as instructed, “I got my hair cut!”

“Oh,” he said. “Don’t take this the wrong way or anything, but you look like a witch.” Gee, I thought, and just in time for Halloween. So I tucked the sides of my hair behind my ears. “Better?” I asked. “Not really,” he said. “Now it looks like a mullet.”

Second son got home an hour later and asked, “What’d you do?” Again, through teeth clenched in a smile, I said, “I got a haircut!”

“You look like a drag queen,” he said. So I asked, “You mean it looks like a bad wig?” and he nodded, still stunned to find his mom looking like Cher—without the cool clothes.

Then his younger brother joined the conversation and suggested, “Maybe you should be like Britney and just shave your head.”

Really? I think he might be onto something. Then maybe I could convince a judge to get K-Fed to take these kids.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Tell me what you want, what you really, really want

My friend in Arkansas (everyone say, “Hey, Jennifer!”) sent me this yesterday. Apparently someone she knows had a going away party for a woman at their office. One of the office supervisors called a local Wal-Mart bakery and ordered a cake for the celebration.

He told the bakery person to write: "Best Wishes Suzanne" and underneath that write "We will miss you." As the picture shows, message sent does not necessarily mean, message received properly. Of course they brought it to the party anyway. It was too funny not to!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Should you really take that call?

The other day I was at the post office, waiting in line to use the self-service postage machine. (In my opinion, the PO’s smartest invention since the sticker-stamp.) I’m sure some of you are even savvier and print your postage from home online. I’ve tried that a few times, but I’m never good at guessing how much something weighs, so I inevitably head to my nearest branch.

The man in front of me is on his cell phone, and I label him a rebel—one of “those” people for whom rules don’t apply because our PO states clearly on the door: No Cell Phones. So Mr. Rule Breaker spends the next ten minutes trying to mail one large envelope on the scale as he’s being coached on the other end of the phone by someone, I assume it’s his wife. And this is a safe assumption, because I know my husband has never attempted to mail anything on his own. He has his secretary mail work stuff and I handle the personal mail.

Mr. Rule Breaker asks his phone: “What do you think? Do I need delivery confirmation? Okay. Now it’s asking for insurance…yeah, okay, no insurance. Will the label fit? How big’s the label?” It really takes every bit of restraint in me not to push him aside, tell him to hang up the forbidden phone, and let me do it.

Because I see him everywhere. He’s always at the grocery, clutching a list his wife wrote in one hand, pushing a cart with the other and trying to keep a cell phone wedged between his shoulder and ear. “Yeah, do we buy Heinz or Hunts? Okay, but the Kroger brand’s on sale. Yeah, okay. And then you have on here butter. Do you want the stick kind or the stuff in a plastic thing?”

Honestly. I can picture him later. “Yeah, I know you told me not to call again, but it’s kinda important. Yeah, there’s only one-ply in here and I’m not sure it’s going to work. Yeah, I guess I don’t have another option. You’re right. I’ll just use more than normal. Front to back, or back to front? Okay. No, I won’t forget; I think this one flushes itself. No, I’ll wash my hands…with soap. Okay. No, I won’t call anymore. I promise. No, I really promise. Okay.”

Yeah, it’s a wonder they can breathe without our telling them to.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Can't stand the crickets

Here in North Texas the dog days of summer have been replaced by the cricket days of fall.

The other night, on garbage-eve, I rolled the industrial-sized blue monster away from the house and cricket central came alive from underneath it. Now, if there’s one thing I hate more than garbage duty, it’s a surprise attack from a secret sect of stowaway crickets. I find any creature that comes flying out at me not particularly enjoyable, especially when it’s the end of the day and my reflexes are shot from wrangling kids.

I dragged the blue beast out to the curb and nearly stepped on a toad the size of my head on the sidewalk. Apparently camping out under a street lamp provided an all-you-can-eat buffet of crickets and other critters. He must have been full because he didn’t even budge. Good thing. You know how I hate things hopping out at me.

I wouldn’t mind the crickets if they’d stay outside, but invariably some have made it indoors. Uninvited. I found one under the dining room hutch the other day, attempting to out-hop a dust bunny. The dust bunny won. He scrambled for awhile, trying in vain to free his legs, but those dust bunnies don’t give up easily or fight fair. I had to walk away.

A few others decided to serenade us late at night, conjuring up my memories of church camp. I fell asleep humming kum-by-ya and longing for a s’more. Others I’ve scooped up with a scrap of paper and flung outdoors for the toads and frogs. It’s not that I think they’re sacred and won’t kill one. I can’t stand the crunch when you smoosh it, so it’s easier to serve them up as an outdoor appetizer.

We have a storm blowing in today, and I’m wondering what season approaches now. The lizard days of October? Fine, as long as they don’t jump out at me.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Ellen should have called me first

If you haven’t seen the footage yet, perhaps you’ve heard Ellen DeGeneres’ urgent, heartfelt plea to the Mutts and Moms rescue center to return Iggy—the dog she adopted, spent more than my house payment having it neutered and tutored to commune with her cats and then later gave away to her hairdresser’s family. Apparently Ellen didn’t realize that once you adopt a stray, you can’t dump the dog nobody wanted on someone who finally does. It’s just against the rules. Go figure.

I feel for you, sister. Trust me. I have searched my own stray adoption papers for a loop-hole, but I was looking for a paragraph that would allow me to ask for compensation for damages caused by my “free to a good home” dog named Jett. He would cause us to replace: a perfectly good fence with an even better, taller fence to keep him from jumping over it; a backdoor frame twice and eventually the whole door; the wooden rails on the deck; every Beanie Baby’s nose he ever came in contact with; the dog bed I sewed him; an upholstered chair; and more stuff that we just threw out. How could something that looked so innocent in his little doggy jail cause so much damage?

And then came the night when Lori drove to book club and brought me home only to realize that I had no house keys and was locked out. Everyone at my house was already asleep. I hated to, but I rang the doorbell. Who showed up at the door? The dog. I called our home phone, no answer. I called my husband’s cell, ditto. I knocked, I banged, I kicked and no one heard me except Jett the Wonder Dog. Desperately I pleaded through the window next to the front door for him to give me a reason to not regret his adoption. “Jett! Go get Daddy!” I commanded. He just looked back at me and wagged his tail. If Lori thought I was crazy for trying, she didn’t say so. But she did leave her SUV’s lights on so we could see what we were doing—or more accurately, what we weren’t doing. Eventually Coma Man awoke, might I add without the gentle nudge of Jett’s wet nose, and my husband staggered to the door to let me in, just in time to help attach the jumper cables to Lori’s dead battery. And did Jett offer to help? What do you think?

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Who knew tape could be so fun

My girlfriend Leanna (who also happens to be a professional photographer: sent me a photo of her two girls and their friends as they were leaving for their homecoming dance. One of the girls’ friends wore a long white dress trimmed in turquoise. A dress she made herself—entirely out of duct tape. (I didn’t realize it came in colors now!) My boys have gotten creative with duct tape before, and I was quite impressed when they covered a piece of cardboard with a roll of the stuff and created a wallet. But this girl is in another league entirely! Not only am I impressed with her creativity, but as a teenager, I would have never had the confidence to step out in a dress so different than everyone else’s. I like her and I’ve never met her. Leanna also said that the girl’s date had a matching turquoise tape suit. Very cool.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

My daughter does stand-up at Starbucks

I had a meeting this morning at Starbucks to discuss a magazine article/series I’m helping to write. We convened an hour before preschool started for my daughter, so I did the unprofessional working-mom thing and took her with me. (The publisher was forewarned and gave me the green light.) On the way there, I coached Mia as she sat behind me in her car seat: “Mommy has a meeting and you have to be a good girl. You can draw, you can drink your milk, but you have to be quiet.” Very matter-of-factly she said to me, “Mom, you know I will be.” And so I said, “Yeah. You’re right.” Then she replied, “So why did you have to tell me to?” Should I tell her I always over-think things or question the inevitable? No, I just said, “Good point.”

She lived up to her end of the bargain. For the first 40 minutes or so she kept quiet, snuggling on my lap or drawing pictures of herself in grand, long, stripey dresses. And then she got a whiff of something baking right when she ran out of milk, and we had to get up and explore the dessert case. I talked her out of any of their cakes (none were chocolate), and she wanted a cinnamon roll only for the gooey icing on top. So we settled on another round of milk, and she picked out a stuffed pumpkin toy.

I gave her some cash and then stepped aside so she could pay for her things herself as the line grew to several folks deep. As she handed over her money, the cashier asked her what she was going to be for Halloween, and Mia made her guess. The young woman asked, “A princess?” And Mia giggled, “Yes!” Then the cashier told her she was going dressed as Tinkerbell which triggered more giggling. And since we’ve been reading joke books most nights before bed, a light bulb went off over my daughter’s head, and she said to the cashier, “I know a good joke about that.” I searched my brain, trying to decide where she was going with this. Of course she asked Mia to tell her the joke, and my daughter said, “What do you call a fairy who never takes a bath?” The cashier smiled and said, “I have no idea!” Mia called out, “Stinkerbell!” The laughter surrounded her as those in line were listening in.

I had an idea my child could be a good girl at a place with no kids’ menus or color-on-me placemats. The delightful surprise came when she was entertaining to boot!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Rain, rain, makin' me crazy

Yesterday it was raining like it rarely does here in North Texas, a real thunderstorm early in the morning. It was the kind of rain that makes you want to hunker down under the covers and order someone to make you some pancakes and bacon. Pronto! Until you realize that Someone would be you. No one else seems to know how to find the stove or if they did, they’d say they didn’t know how to light it.

After breakfast of a bagel and banana (I’m trying to not eat chocolate before noon any more), I drove the boys to school since lightning still threatened and they refused to walk, and then got my daughter up and dressed for preschool, knowing we’d be late today. Luckily her school just heavily fines you if you’re late on the pick up—not on the drop off. Apparently punctuality only matters when the teacher is ready to unload a rowdy group of toddlers.

As we got out of the van, I pulled her rain-jacket hood up, popped open my umbrella and noticed my friend Tracy’s SUV across the parking lot. Not terribly unusual to see her running late too, but she has a baby to blame it on. We’re just not morning folks. I see some movement behind the wheel and wave to her as we make a dash for the entrance. When we get to the sidewalk, we run into Tracy with the baby and she says, “You were waving to my dog.” Uhhh. Hard to come back with an intelligent response. I could blame it on the rain (isn’t that a song?) or her expertly tinted windows. But it’s more of a reflection of my life these days. Some days I seem to have it all together. Other times, I’m just wavin’ at someone’s dog.

Monday, October 15, 2007

I meet the most interesting people...

Last week I interviewed Ken Colburn, the founder and president of Data Doctors, a computer service company. He mentioned that he loves owning a company that franchises because he gets to work with people from all walks of life, who he might never come in contact with if he just worked at an office. I had to agree. In the past two weeks, I have interviewed: a plastic surgeon, an administrator at our school system, a staff member of one of our state’s House of Representatives, and talked with three publishers about writing assignments. Who knows what this week might bring? How about you? Does your job allow you to interact with some amazing people? Mine sure does.

And even though now I spend much of my allotted writing time away from my next novel, I know that someday having interviewed professionals about Med Spas—the latest in noninvasive plastic surgery—will come in handy. I’m sure that Jac, a character in my work-in-progress, will need Botox sooner or later, and I’ll know exactly where she’ll go to have it done. Or if Jac’s computer crashes, I’m sure the closest Data Doctors will fix her right up.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

sunday, sunday

It's been one of those days. Trying to get an article written before tomorrow's deadline. Hate to work on Sunday, but I need to finish two interviews and hoped to catch them home today. No luck so far. Feel as though I'm missing out on what the family is doing. Can hear a football game on TV in the den. Have no idea what we are eating for dinner. Will tear myself away from the computer soon to finish up some laundry and poke around in the fridge.